X-Men: Days of Future Past opens on Friday, and it appears that, once again, Storm, one of Marvel's most iconic characters, will be playing a relatively minor role. Halle Berry, who has played Storm throughout the series, has said that she will not be flying or fighting; post-production rumors have swirled around her appearance being cut; and frankly, what we've seen in the trailer doesn't look good for the mutant affectionately known as Windrider:
But in the comic books, she's anything but peripheral. Over the past year or so, Storm has assumed a leadership role on the X-Men, become headmaster at the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning, and commanded an all-female X-Men strike force. And come this July, will be given her own solo comic series. Here's what the weather-manipulating badass is up to when the cameras aren't rolling.
The importance of Storm in the Marvel Universe
Marvel, for the past couple of years, has built up a notably diverse cast of heroes, and started to get serious about featuring its female leads. But arguably the most iconic non-white character the company has introduced to date is Storm, aka Ororo Munroe, who was first introduced in 1975. Clocking in at 5'11" with white hair, black skin, and the power to control the weather, Storm was startling, beautiful, and something readers had never seen before. She's a big reason writer Greg Pak picked up comic books.
"The character made an impression on me as a young kid. She really blew my mind," Pak said, detailing Storm's fictional backstory, which includes growing up a street thief and becoming queen of a country. "I'm half Korean, half white, and grew up as an Asian-American kid in Texas. It was a big deal to see characters who were not white ... When I found out about X-Men and found out about Storm, it was a pretty awesome thing to see."
Pak, 45, is one of the most well-respected writers in the comic business today. He's worked on titles like X-Treme X-Men, Iron Man, and World War Hulk for Marvel and Batman/Superman for DC comics.
And how he's in charge of the character who inspired him to get into the business in the first place. "I'm not interested in being instructive and showing how wonderful everybody can be," Pak said. "Perfect characters are not human, and perfect characters defeat the purpose of diversity. She [Storm] wasn't a character who was created to be a role model."
Daniel Ketchum, the editor of the series, thinks this is what draws people to the character. "She’s taken whatever the world might use as an excuse to ostracize her and has instead used it as reason to be extra sassy," he told me. "I think everyone can be inspired by that."
Ketchum, who was adopted and gay, was also drawn to Storm at a young age, right around the time when kids were spending their the X-Men arcade game was getting popular. "My friend chose to play as Wolverine or Nightcrawler or something, while I surely scrambled to find some way to justify playing as the fierce white-haired black woman wearing a bikini and a cape. The X-MEN animated series entered my world a couple months later."
That series had moxie and probably cemented Storm's status as the most dramatic X-Men in the game (and possibly solidified her gay following). Check out this bit of scenery chewing:
"Storm has probably always been my favorite—despite having so little in common with her on a cosmetic level—because I could relate to her response to being different and found it aspirational," Ketchum said. "But that’s the power of stories, isn’t it? Finding a relatable story in someone completely unlike yourself?"
With great power comes great responsibility
For Pak, that's the most important benefit of diverse comic casts: it means more kids are going to read it. Pak told me that he grew up relating to stories from Ray Bradbury and identifying with Spiderman and Superman and that kids don't have to necessarily share a race or ethnicity with a hero to relate to one. But he also says you can't underestimate the power of stories when they reflect their readers. "When kids see faces like theirs in literature," he explained. "They're more likely to read…when you have characters of different backgrounds, another door opens up. "
What those kids read also matters, not just when it's giving them characters who reflect them, but when it's introducing them to characters with background they're less familiar with."Racism is about the denying the humanity of other people — looking at other people and thinking of them as not as human as you are," Pak said. By reading and relating to characters of different religions, skin colors, and sexualities in comics and showing their stories, "you are subconsciously accepting that person as a human being. It's essential when you're living in a world with a variety of people."
Ketchum says the company's transition toward a more diverse set of characters happened after the staff realized just how male-dominated Marvel's comics were getting, but that the change hardly needed to be forced. "There was a point in time a few years ago when we made the observation that Marvel was publishing only one title led by a female character, X-23," Ketchum said. "And a call was made —I wouldn’t even go as far as to call it a 'push'— to get some new titles spotlighting female characters up and running. But for the most part, it all happened organically."
The "it" Ketchum is talking about refers to titles like Ms. Marvel and Captain Marvel; solo books for characters like Black Widow, Elektra, and She-Hulk; gay characters like the X-Men Benjamin Deeds and Bling; diverse rosters like the Mighty Avengers, Young Avengers, and the Ultimates; and now a solo series for Storm.
"I love that that’s how it all came about. No quota to fill, no motive to run out some headline 'Guess who’s GAAAAYYYYYYYY' … just good stories that mirror the real world," Ketchum said.
What can we expect from the series?
Getting spoilers from Pak and Ketchum about the new, Storm-focused comic series was tough. What I can report is that the opening scene sounds pretty awesome and involves Storm and a tsunami. Ketchum explained:
There will of course still be insanely awesome action setpieces—for example, the series opens on Storm standing between a village and an oncoming tsunami—but the stories are a bit more grounded, each one having some foil character or plotpoint that picks at Storm’s soul. It won’t just be all flights and tights, but also an intimate look at the woman enrapt in it all.
If the secret title for the first series was "STORM: SHE BEATS BITCHES UP WITH WEATHER," the title for this one would probably be more like, "MAKE IT RAIN" or "STEAL YOUR THUNDER."
Pak says we're going to see what it's like to actually be Storm — not the fierce drama queen who makes it rain, but rather a character who is flawed and dealing with the expectations of being a flawless leader. "What you have to remember is that Storm, as a kid, called herself a goddess and was worshipped as one. That's a scary little flaw. There's some fun stuff to explore there."
There's also the art and the promise of badassery from artist Victor Ibanez. Ketchum said:
His art style is representative enough to have that real world, cinematic appeal, but stylized enough to be able to take advantage of the sorts of exaggerations in character and movement that you see in animation. It’s the best of both worlds. And I’m thrilled to have Storm live in that world…You are going to get MANY true badass Storm moments!
The perfect Storm: Lupita Nyong'o or RuPaul.
Perhaps the best news to Storm fans (who feel a bit letdown by her lack of big moments in the X-Men movie franchise) is that director Bryan Singer hinted that the next X-Men flick, X-Men: Apocalypse, would see Storm recast.
"I literally never get angry about casting. I'm always eager to have actors rise to the occasion all the time," Pak said, trying to wriggle out of my question as to who he would choose to be the next Storm.
After some pushing, Pak mentions Lupita Nyong'o. "She's got a look and presence that would be astounding."
Ketchum was a little better about naming names. "Truth be told, I have no particular performer in mind for that job. Lupita Nyong’o? Janelle Monae? Gabourey Sidibe? Beyoncé?" he said. "I think any of them could turn out a fierce portrayal of Storm…though I might insist that they get some pointers from RuPaul before filming begins!"